The 9 Biggest Jaw-Droppers at the 2021 Grammys

The pandemic-postponed 2021 Grammy Awards was a historic night for Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, a lovefest for Megan Thee Stallion and a reassuring night for us.

By Natalie Finn Mar 15, 2021 7:00 AMTags
Watch: Megan Thee Stallion Teases "Hot Girl Summer Pt. 2" at GRAMMYs

Admit it, if you weren't involved in the planning of the 2021 Grammys, you had no idea how they were going to pull off a socially distanced take on music's biggest, most increasingly polarizing night.

It's one thing for actors to stay home and say witty things from their couches, or for a host to spin a lengthy monologue into the camera, but the Grammy Awards are about the live performances, the capital-M Moments that never fail to unfold, the GIF-able shots of your favorite artists dancing to their favorite artists. Sure, there are 70 categories, but only a relative fraction of the time is devoted to actually handing out awards.

At least with Trevor Noah hosting and Ben Winston, co-executive producer of The Late Late Show With James Corden and its infectious "Carpool Karaoke" segments at the helm of the only three-and-a-half-hour CBS broadcast (because, you know, they shortened it this year), the Grammys had a fighting chance of being entertaining.

And the team came out swinging.

See the Winners of the 2021 Grammys

For starters, it was the first major awards show to be held primarily outdoors (tip of the hat to Los Angeles winters!), allowing for more interaction(-ish) between presenters and winners, and more people were present at this show than were at the Emmys last September (all cardboard cutouts and Jason Bateman) or even the bicoastal Golden Globes that were held just two weeks ago.

"This is not a Zoom background, this is real," Noah said, referring to Staples Center behind him, as he kicked off the televised portion of the ceremony. He proceeded to give a tour of the complicated layout, starting with the airy tent-shaded courtyard where the attendees were sitting—wearing masks, at tiny tables for two, as opposed to sitting concert-style inside as they usually do—and then showing off the performance area.

Sweetest Family Moments at the 2021 Grammys

And music, even if some of it wasn't live-live, never fails to bring the feelings to an occasion, so the Grammys always have a running start when it comes to the assurance that someone will be moved by something.

They still, rather impressively, managed to feature nearly two dozen performances, from Post Malone, Dua Lipa and Haim in the house to Lil Baby and BTS elsewhere in the world, near and far. And this was also easily the least screen-heavy of the shows so far this year, with no one accepting their awards (again, during the televised part) from home and the performances looking as they always do to the folks at home.

And while we, as much as anybody, hope that this is the only awards season that looks remotely like this (sure, pun intended, why not) and proceeds to last into April, even a pandemic-delayed, half-outdoor, half-pretaped show had all the joy, tears and history you could want in a Grammys ceremony. So here are the jaw-dropping moments from last night:

The History of Beyoncé

Where to begin with Queen Bey's evening? First, she looked genuinely startled when host Trevor Noah pointed out that her win with her "Savage" cohort Megan Thee Stallion for Best Rap Song tied her for most Grammys ever won by a female artist, an honor shared with Alison Krauss. Then, moments later, she became the all-time leading singer with 28 after winning Best R&B Performance for "Black Parade," and is tied for second-most wins by anyone ever with prolific producer Quincy Jones.

Beyoncé is also the most nominated female artist of all time, with 79, and shares the perch of second-most-nominated person ever alongside Paul McCartney. The only people in front of her and Sir Paul are 80-time nominees Jay-Z and Jones.

The History of Taylor Swift

After giving what we think was her personal best Grammys performance ever, the rustic-glam cabin setting really serving as the perfect backdrop for "cardigan," "august" and "willow," Swift became the only female solo artist with three wins for Album of the Year, folklore entering the pantheon alongside Fearless and 1989.

Your move, Adele.

Billie's Ode to Megan

And speaking of Adele, Billie Eilish channeled the English singer's adoration of Beyoncé in the way she dedicated her second consecutive Record of the Year win to fellow nominee Megan Thee Stallion when "Everything I Wanted" topped "Savage" for the last award of the night.

"This is really embarrassing for me," the 19-year-old L.A. native began, embarrassed for the second straight year and with brother-producer-co-writer Finneas by her side. "Megan, girl...I was gonna write a speech about how you deserve this, but then I was like, 'There's no way they're gonna choose me.'" She laughed at the very thought. "I was like, 'It's hers!' YOu deserve this. You had a year that I think is untoppable. You are a queen. I want to cry thinking about how much I love you. You are so beautiful. You're so talented. You deserve everything in the world. I think about you constantly, I root for you always. You deserve it, honestly. Genuinely, this goes to her--can we just cheer for Megan Thee Stallion, please?"

She did then proceed to acknowledge that she had actually won and did some quick thank-yous before the camera panned to Noah, but not before you could hear Billie wondering out loud to Finneas, "Oh my god, where do I go?" as she peered into the wings off-stage.

Wings like no other wings, in this strangest of years.

All That Was Lost

Considering Kobe Bryant died on the morning of the Grammys last year, hours before the ceremony was to be held at Staples Center, his home court for 20 seasons with the Lakers, it was unthinkable that the atmosphere on such a night could get any heavier. Who knew that barely six weeks after that, loss would start spreading like wildfire?

The segment of the Grammys remembering the artists who died over the past year is always touching and, in our opinion, a reliably must-watch part of the show. This time, of course, the weight of the lives lost from the music world was compounded by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic—which did, in fact, take the life of revered singer-songwriter John Prine, who was honored in person at last year's ceremony, as well as the lives of more than half a million other people in the United States.

So from the strains of the late Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" to Lionel Richie singing Kenny Rogers' "Lady" (which he wrote and produced for his pal), Brandi Carlisle paying tribute to Prine and Brittany Howard covering "You'll Never Walk Alone" (not at all sappy in her hands, somehow) with Chris Martin on the piano, it was a fittingly heavy, mournful moment.

However, we could've also watched Bruno Mars sing Little Richard songs for an hour.

Message Received

Following a year in which people demonstrated in numbers not seen since the 1960s, Lil Baby took his performance of Best Rap Song nominee "The Bigger Picture" to the streets of L.A., paying tribute to Black men and women who've been killed by police and featuring a request from activist Tamika Mallory, who didn't mince words.

"President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy and everything else that freedom encompasses," she said forcefully, protesters holding signs reading "ENOUGH" and "not another Black life" standing behind her.

H.E.R. was a Song of the Year winner as one of the writers of "I Can't Breathe," her response to the disproportionate number of Black victims of police violence. 

"Remember, we are the change that we wish to see and that fight that we had in us the summer of 2020, keep that same energy," she said Sunday. "I Can't Breathe" was released on June 19—Juneteenth, the date commemorating the end of slavery in the United States 156 years ago—as was Beyoncé's "Black Parade," for which she won Best R&B Performance.

"As an artist I believe it's my job, and all of our jobs, to reflect the times," Bey said. "It's been such a difficult time, so I wanted to uplift, encourage, celebrate all of the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world."

Megan Thee Stallion's Emotion

Whether she was accepting Best New Artist after one of the grandest 2020's of any performer (especially considering we were all stuck in our houses) or reacting to her Best Rap Song win with Beyoncé alongside her (the ladies being two of "Savage's" nine listed writers), Megan's genuine emotion and the way she pushed those tears back at the beginning of both speeches in order to get her words out was truly touching.

"It's been a hell of a year, but we made it," she said earlier in the night, adding, in tribute to her late mother, "My momma's not here with me today, but she's here with me in spirit, and she always believed I could do it. Thank you so much."

No Need to Change the Sheets

Turns out you can perform "WAP" for a prime-time audience, the network just has to leave out a few key words. 

But since you can't have the Grammys without the biggest song of the year, Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion's acronym-necessitating song having made quite the, er, splash last summer, they cleaned it up a bit (or else it would have been 90 percent dead air) but still got their point across, aided and abetted by a massive bed.

Chances are some people, somewhere (not Post Malone), still clutched their pearls. But oh well.

Life on Mars

Bruno Mars once again proved that he is timeless, whether he's in Saturday Night Fever wear putting the silk in Silk Sonic with Anderson.Paak for their duo's debut performance of "Leave the Door Open," or paying tribute to Little Richard with a rousing medley of "Long Tall Sally" and "Good Golly, Miss Molly." Channeling the 1950s or the 1970s, he's always the singer we need now.

Fashionably Late

Dinner reservations, housewarming parties, Met Gala, Grammys... who cares when Beyoncé and Jay-Z show up, so long as they do? After word got around that the couple would not be in attendance despite Bey leading all artists with nine nominations, they did slip in unannounced.

About two hours into the show.

Well, they obviously had to celebrate with daughter Blue Ivy Carter at home first, the 9-year-old having won her first Grammy earlier in the night, sharing the triumph with her mom and WizKid for Best Music Video for "Brown Skin Girl."